If the idea of a political thriller with a modern-day Cold War theme resonates with you or something in our collective unconscious, my FOMO levels are higher than a lonely night on Facebook. Not only does The Double’s outdated theme feel out of leftfield, it’s unexplained and without reason. Today, the Cold War is probably most palatable in period pieces, comedies, or conspiracy theories where it can sensibly be treated with the proper instruments—irony, comedy, historical revisionism, etc.—to open it back up and give it reason to re-warrant our attention. The Double simply presents it matter-of-factly, as if such a theme could stand on its own or is inherently interesting, which has the effect of making it stand out more than Topher Grace playing a Harvard PhD working for the F.B.I.
As if Richard Gere knows all this, he brings to his role as Paul Shepherdson, a retired C.I.A. agent who has been called off the bench by C.I.A. chief Tom Highland (Martin Sheen) to find the elusive Soviet killer Cassius, little more than a pillow to nap on between shots. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll also know that Paul is Cassius, a twist given away so readily perhaps because it occurs so early in the film itself, right after a scene where we learn how grateful we are that only Stephen Moyer, in a tacky tattoed-Russian-behind-bars look, required a makeup artist. This early twist sets the film off into an initially entertaining game of cat and mouse, but the suspense of Paul’s real identity being under the nose of his young partner, Ben Geary (Grace), is at best lukewarm, and their awkward performances are distracting.
Supposedly the idea for The Double was stirred up by recent news of Russian spies being discovered in the U.S. and Britain. The last time I read about the Cold War in the news was, to be fair, just the other day, but it was about how the U.S. was dismantling the last of its Cold War-era B53 bombs. If writer-director Michael Brandt really thought his chosen subject was bankable enough to make a film, why does he exhaust any interest we might have with tiresome red herrings and double crossings? When Brandt finally gets to his last big twist, the only plot point the trailer doesn’t give away, it’s doubtful an audience can be expected to care.